Pros:Catherine’s world is well-developed; magic is balanced well with the other aspects of Catherine’s life
Cons: There is one instance where a character’s motivation remains unclear
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Macmillan Group
Catrinna de’ Medici’s life seems to be on the fast track to power; even though her parents have died and she’s still a young girl, she is going to be the ruler of Florence when she becomes of age. Unrest and rebellion, however, will separate her from her family, but she has an unlikely ally—an astrologer named Cosimo Ruggieri, who through the use of his knowledge tries to protect her for the future he sees mapped out for her in the stars. When Catrinna finds herself under the protective wing of the Pope, she begins to look forward to the day when she will marry and take her place as the ruler of Florence. But the Pope has other plans. She finds herself married to Henry, Duke of Orleans, and her name becomes Catherine. Battling her husband’s seeming indifference and hostile court factions, she seeks to prevent visions of blood and death that she sees. When Henry is crowned King of France, it seems that she may finally have the means of preventing bloodshed. But the more she fights her visions, the closer they seem to come. Will she be able to avert the tide, or will blood spill over the land of France?
One of the things that I really enjoyed about reading The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici was the way that Ms. Kalogridis was able to make the time period come to life. Her description of the Pope’s office and the paintings that adorn it make me wish that I could see it as Catherine saw it, untouched by the five hundred years that have passed since. And descriptions of the differences between Italian and French fashions has piqued my interest. I only recently became aware of the different fashions of the Middle Ages, and it seems there’s even more variety in the Renaissance. One of the things that Catherine talks about over the course of the novel that really helped me relate to her, however, was her love of books and learning. In particular, a trilogy of books by an author named Ficino helps to shape Catherine’s understanding of astrology, and I was impressed to find that the books Catherine read were real. It is these details, among so many others, that helped to immerse me in Catherine’s story and world.
Ms. Kalogridis paints a remarkably vivid portrait not only of sixteenth-century life, but of sixteenth-century politics as well. From Catherine’s aunt and uncle being ousted from Florence, to the Pope’s arranged marriage for her, to her husband Henry’s ascent to the kingship, politics help to drive the story forward. For the most part, these are easily explained to the reader as Catherine understands them, but there was one instance where I was a little bit lost [Note: the rest of this paragraph might contain some spoilers, so jump ahead to the next if you want to be sure to avoid them]. Catherine’s third son, Edouard comes into possession of a note detailing a plot against the royal family, and so she and her son the King order execution orders drawn up for the ringleaders of the plot. Just as the carrying out of these orders begins, she finds out through a letter that one of the doomed men must be saved, and so she ventures out herself to save him. The author of the note (which is a fraud) comes into a position of power at the end of the book, leading to Catherine’s loss of power. What wasn’t clear to me was why Catherine did not suffer other consequences besides the loss of her power. If the author of the note had wanted all of these people of an opposing faction dead, then wouldn’t there have been additional consequences for Catherine? Or was he merely trying to discredit her in the eyes of her subjects? The lack of drastic action would make sense in that case. It left me wondering.
Throughout the politics of Catherine’s life, there’s another thread twined; that of astrology and magic. Catherine dreams of death and bloodshed, but seeks to avert it with the help of Cosimo Ruggieri, the astrologer who has helped her since she was a girl. The thing that I like about Ms. Kalogridis’ use of both Cosimo and the magic are that both are used sparingly, appearing only when they are really necessary. Catherine does an excellent job of dealing with most of her life, but every once in a while she needs a little extra help. By using Cosimo so sparingly, Ms. Kalogridis keeps the focus on Catherine’s strength and persistence instead of turning the story into that of a woman dependent on magic. A brief note of caution, however; there is one spell that Catherine and Cosimo cast that involves a somewhat graphic description of events. The weak of stomach might want to skip a few pages. It is, however, a well-written scene.
As for Catherine’s dreams of disaster, again Ms. Kalogridis manages to keep them from becoming a litany of doom that makes the reader feel as if Catherine is fighting insurmountable odds. Catherine almost always has some sort of plan to handle situations, or if not, knows where to find help, and so instead the reader is given the feeling that if Catherine works hard enough she will be able to avert the crisis. Ms. Kalogridis keeps the reader wondering if Catherine will succeed, instead of foreshadowing that success or failure are inevitable.
Catherine is a well-developed character, one that was very easy for me to relate to. Her commitment to her country and to preventing her disastrous dreams from coming true were admirable. Throughout the different tragedies and challenges in her life, she remains unbowed. Despite some of the more difficult things that she does to stay in power, she remains likable because the reader understands her motivations. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in Catherine’s world, and meeting all of the different people in her life. This book is like watching history come to life, and is well worth a read.